Social media outlets can be a double-edged sword in the news world. Whether you’re looking at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest or a platform that hasn’t hit the mainstream yet, if you choose to live by social media, there’s a chance you might die by social media. Here are four pretty important factors to consider if you consider social media one of your “go to” sources.
Reliability is the biggest factor when it comes to getting news via social media. Anybody can say anything they want – that neither makes it true nor makes it news.
A newsworthy event can create a herd mentality, where a sliver of information tweeted out from a breaking situation – even if it’s by a reputable source such as a mainstream reporter – can turn into an avalanche of retweets, comments, speculation, alarm and misinformation. Knowing how to sift through the noise for the signal [too techy? Wheat from the chaff?] becomes increasingly important in these situations, as decisions for your business could rely on such breaking news.
Choosing a core group of reliable influencers and sources can improve your signal-to-noise ratio; by relying on sources you find valuable, you’re better able to find the information you deem not just relevant, but important as well.
Another pitfall of social media is specific to Twitter – is 140 characters enough to base a decision on? Reports have surfaced that Twitter is considering upping its character limit to 10K (about 1,800-2,000 words), which would change the nature of Twitter from a quick-and-dirty way to get information out to a platform on which long form posts could become the norm. That said, Twitter has built its user base from nothing to an average monthly count of 307 million unique users on the back of its 140-character limit.
Filtering is an issue, especially when using an aggregator or any kind of automation to get at those social media posts. If filtering is done based on natural language, the system could get confused by word shortening or slang usage (YKWIM?). Adding meta data can add to a social media feed’s usefulness, but it can also add a layer of complexity that makes it difficult to extract the important data.
Finally, and perhaps the social media pitfall that affects me most, is the rabbit hole effect. You see an important post, follow that link, then another – and another – and the next thing you know it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and you’re watching yet another video of news anchor bloopers. Using alerts instead of relying on your ability to stay on task is a good way to get around the time-suck aspect of social media.
Social media is growing more powerful as a news venue day by day, but it’s not without its dangers. Finding the balance between the fleeting nature of social media posts and the usefulness of the information in them could mean the difference between your company succeeding next quarter or not.